Startup HR: Intellectual Property: How to Get, and Keep, the Best Ideas from Your People

Posted by Tricia Hollyer

Do you know how to protect the IP in your company? Intellectual property is the “creations of the mind for which exclusive rights are recognized."

In technology or other knowledge-based industries we protect the IP of our products, particularly before they go to market or if we’re creating something radically new, because we recognize that it is the idea that has the ability to be a game changer that can make us successful beyond our wildest dreams. IP often feels like an external thing, something we can get a legal agreement to define and protect, something that exists outside of us.

But what about the intellectual property in the heads of your employees? The ideas they’ve created, the design revisions they’ve invented, the killer new feature you’re going to add in the next version once you get this one stable?

SEE ALSO: How Do You Want Your People to Feel Every Day?

There are two challenges with the IP in our people’s heads. First, getting it out of their heads and into your products. Hopefully you are already spending a fair amount of time on this one, since that’s likely what pulled your initial team together in the first place.

Here are some top tips to keep in mind for bringing the best intellectual capacity into your company:

  • Hire right in the first place: look for intelligence, aptitude, and attitude to bring in the best minds in your field so you can create market-dominating products.
  • Create workspaces that allow for creativity, communication, and collaboration: allowing people to bump into each other in the common areas can spark conversations that lead to brilliant new ideas.
  • Create workspaces that allow for solitude and quiet: particularly for some types of work like coding, your best minds may need a space where they won’t be interrupted in order to do their best work.
  • Allow for flexibility in how, when, and where your people work: great minds are creative minds, and they don’t tend to follow a set schedule or deliver on command so give your people the freedom to figure out how they work best. Hold them accountable to deliver, but let them do it their way.
  • Embrace failure: nothing kills new ideas faster than punishing mistakes or shutting down disagreement. Let people argue, experiment, invent, try again. Fail faster so you can succeed sooner.

The second challenge is keeping the great intellectual property inside your company, not losing it when people walk out the door. The best solution to this is making sure they want to stay; that they feel deeply connected to what you’re doing and want to remain a part of it.

RELATED: How to Avoid the Scenario That Yahoo Forced Marissa Mayer Into

So how do you make them want to stay, especially when there are always competitors nipping at your heels to take your best and brightest?

  • Focus on the fundamentals of the employee experience more than the perks: foosball tables and free food are great, but they don’t truly build engagement. Engaged employees need the basics covered – clarity of expectations, consistent opportunities to learn and progress, an open and respectful environment, regular feedback, and the ability to contribute and innovate.
  • Create connection: people stay where they feel a part of something, where their tribe is. That doesn’t mean hiring a bunch of people who are exactly the same, but it does mean ensuring there are opportunities for people to get to know each other, to care about each other as people.
  • Give them purpose: too many startups focus on growth as the main reason for why they do what they do—to be the best, the first, the most successful. It’s great to want that, but it doesn’t inspire people at a fundamental level. Make sure you know—and your people know—what your why is. Why does what you do matter? Who does it help? How will it make things better? Give people something to feel emotionally tied to and they will be much more committed.
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Tricia Hollyer

Tricia Hollyer

Tricia Hollyer is the owner of Compassionate Leadership, a consulting firm that specializes in providing HR expertise, coaching, and management training to fast-growth companies. Prior to starting her own company, Tricia was an HR executive in the technology industry for 18 years, going from startups to buyouts of multi-national public companies like Peer 1 Hosting. She is an expert in people... more




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